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Interview: 30 Rock's Scott Adsit Moves Ahead

By Samantha Abernethy in Arts & Entertainment on Jun 11, 2013 4:00PM

Scott Adsit, Getty Images
Scott Adsit, perhaps best known for his role as Pete Hornberger, isn't slowing down in his post-30 Rock career. Adsit is a character actor, stage actor and improv comic. He is also a Chicago native, a graduate of Columbia College and a former main-stage player at Second City.

Adsit is launching several stage productions, touring the festival circuit, he has a pilot, a movie and "another big feature coming up that I'm not even allowed to talk about." Adsit spoke with us by phone on Friday about his new projects, the maturation of the Chicago comedy scene and the future of sitcoms in advance of his appearance at the Just For Laughs Festival.

The Second City Alumni show starring Scott Adsit, TJ Jagodowski, Kevin Dorff and David Pasquesi is at the UP Comedy Club on Wednesday, June 12 at 7:15 p.m. Tickets are on sale now.

Chicagoist: What is the main difference between the Chicago and New York comedy scenes?

Scott Adsit: I haven't been in the Chicago comedy scene in quite a while, but the difference is Second City is so much bigger now than it was when I left and certainly when I trained there. I think Second City is still the center of that whole world. It has so many different fields and avenues of interest and pursuits, in that it's kind of an industry now, improv, which is weird to think about in retrospect just because it was always just the people in the cast and the pianist and the lighting person on the board. That was the theater pretty much as far as we were concerned. Now it's just this huge place. It's like the Pentagon in there. And New York, I think it's still in its way young in that realm. The UCB is certainly the center of the improv community here because it has the best and the brightest and gets the most press and it has the most successful graduates, but still it's a little theater run by a bunch of friends. That's the big difference, at least in the improv community. There are a bunch of comedy places in New York that have been here forever, but that's not really my world. I can't really comment on that. But as far as improv goes, New York still feels young. Chicago kind of is now in its middle age and getting fat.

C: There has been an ongoing theme with the comedians I've been speaking to about the Just For Laughs Festival of Chicago being a place that comedians "graduate" from. Do you think that's still true, as a graduate yourself?

SA: Absolutely. It's still a great proving ground for comedians and improvisers and actors in Chicago. It's still an amazing, vibrant theater town. I think it still is a mecca, certainly for improv. There was a time there when Second City expanded and was in a bunch of different cities, and I think that kind of diluted the stock of it because it used to be that everyone would come to Chicago. No matter where they were from, they'd head to Chicago to learn improv at Second City. And when they opened up franchises, it kept the cream of the cream away from each other, so that was a shame, but I think that's kind of stopped. I think it's still the crucible for all that talent, and there's just a lot more students and people in the game now, which is a good thing. Did that answer your question?

C: Yes.

SA: I'll meander, and I'll wander into several different metaphors for your questions.

C: Ha, well I like that idea of Chicago becoming a little more polished. Is it maybe too polished? Is it less fun? Is it maybe harder to get going and have fun with it?

SA: Oh, it's still fun because the people on stage are still really, very talented, and when I come back and play with people who are in Chicago and are at the top of their game, whether they're on the Main Stage or on Etc. or at the iO. The talent is still there. They're still having fun, which is really important. They haven't become a business. And so it's still the place to feel connected to the community.

C: So how is your post-30 Rock career feeling?

SA: I'm very busy actually. I'm preparing three different stage productions in New York: Two plays and one thing which will be an amazing new kind of theater-going experience with me and John Lutz (from 30 Rock and my improv partner out here), TJ & Dave from Chicago, Stephnie Weir and her husband Bob Dassie, who are also from Second City but we're spread across the country now. Stephnie and Bob are in LA. We're preparing, with our director Stephen Ruddy, an off-Broadway show that will be improvised for the theater-going public, rather than the comedy club-going public. It will be an improvised play, which will be different every night and will be in a different theater every run that we have. So we'll spend four or five shows at one theater that we borrow from the company that is currently performing at that theater, and we'll use their stage and perhaps their props, and we'll get an audience in there on their off-nights or after their show is over and improvise a play based on their set. It's called Stolen House. I'm really excited about it because you couldn't find a better group of improvisers in the world than those five people I'm working with. I'm very excited about that. That should be happening in August. And then I've got a few plays, and then I just made a pilot, I just shot a movie, and I've got another big feature coming up that I'm not even allowed to talk about, in July. And then a lot of festivals, too, so now that I'm unemployed, I have a lot of work.

C: Tell me about what your show is going to be like at Just For Laughs.

SA: That will be four of us. The other three guys, again three of my favorite improvisers Kevin Dorff and TJ & Dave. (Ed. Note: TJ Jagodowski and David Pasquesi are Chicago improv duo TJ & Dave.) I've worked at Second City and I've created a couple of shows with Kevin Dorff. And TJ & Dave, I've improvised with before individually. Before it was "TJ & Dave," it was "Adsit and Pasquesi." We had a show that would run whenever we were in town together. And so it'll be just the four of us working off each others' energies, which are all pretty different, and hopefully doing some really funny, delightful and honest improv.

C: I heard, since you're venturing more onto the stage, I heard that you did a Shakespearean play last year.

SA: I did Hamlet for a run here in New York, and then we took it to the Edinburgh Festival. Was that last year? Maybe it was two years ago. I don't remember. (Ed. Note: It was 2011.) I was a very young and virile and sexy Polonius.

C: And am I correct, this was your first experience doing Shakespeare?

SA: In public, yeah. Obviously in classes and I've studied it, but I've never performed before in front of a paying audience, and it was really fun. It was intimidating. It was through the Fundamental Theater Company here in New York. And Alec Baldwin made an appearance in it. And some really talented young actors, and myself. It was really fun, but it was daunting. I'm not great at memorizing. I'm an improviser. So I have a hard time with lines sometimes, but I styled it, once you kind of got the lyric of his words, it's so easy to memorize because the rhythm of the lines are so beautiful. They inform all language followed them, and they just have become the most natural way for a human to think and speak, so I found that the lines were easier to memorize than poorly written scripts that I get sometimes.

C: Have you ever seen the Improvised Shakespeare Company here in Chicago?

SA: I don't think I have. I know people who have loved it, but I haven't seen it. Have you?

C: No, I actually haven't, but Patrick Stewart showed up last weekend, and he was Christopher Robin in a Shakespearean "Winnie the Pooh."

SA: Wow. That would've been fascinating. So cool.

Adsit with the cast of 30 Rock. Getty Images
C: Yeah! I want to talk a little bit about television. I feel like 30 Rock's success is what has made for more interesting sitcoms on network television. I was wondering what you think of the sitcoms on TV today, what sort of stuff you're watching, and what effect 30 Rock had on influencing that field.

SA: I tell you what, I don't watch a lot because I don't have a TV in my apartment. I watch stuff online, but that just means I don't flip around and come across things. I have to know about them to start watching. I watch a lot of British television, sitcom-wise. I think their ratio is similar to ours in terms of quality to crap, but it's the quality that makes it over here to us. A lot of those I really adore. As far as American stuff, you know, The Office came before us, and that had its own thing. But you're talking about like Up All Night or... tell me some shows you think are influenced by us.

C: Well, Up All Night, that's a great example. I hadn't thought of that. I was thinking of Parks & Rec and a couple of other things. I feel like every year, I'm more impressed with the sitcom offerings. It's not just canned laughter.

SA: I think maybe what it's done is proved to the public that SNL people are damn fine actors and reliable and likeable presences. That's like Amy (Poehler) and Andy (Samberg) and Maya (Rudolph) and other people who have come out. And Tina, who was a head writer and the news anchor, proved her chops, and that gave more people confidence in green-lighting SNL/Broadway Video shows and just helped garner trust in the sketch performers. As we've seen, Amy is a wonderful actress, and always has been, but quite often sketch comedians are just sketch comedians. And of course most of them were a lot more.

C: Yeah, in the 90s, the post-SNL careers were less illustrious than they have been in the last decade or so.

SA: Exactly, yeah. And also I think Tina has inspired people to be better writers and expect more from the scripts.

C: I thought it was interesting when 30 Rock won the Golden Globe and Tina Fey thanked the "dozens of viewers." I thought it was interesting that the network was willing to take a gamble on a show with less viewership, and I feel like I see that happening more often, that they're letting it go for a season instead of cutting it off after five episodes on shows like Community and Parks & Rec. 30 Rock was the first sort of like a cult classic that went mainstream and made it worth it.

SA: I could be wrong, but I think these shows had champions within the network, the people who make decisions. They're thinking of the bottom-line, but they're also thinking of legacy and reputation and quality. Network guys are not dummies. Sometimes they decide to go after something that will please everyone instead of raising the bar a bit. They go for the familiar rather than the risk. Quite often recently I think, maybe it was 30 Rock, and maybe it was the cancellation of Arrested Development, which was immediately mourned for years. I think maybe they said, "Well, we should've let that stay on the air." Or something like Freaks And Geeks have executives thinking, "If the public had seen more of that, then they would've liked more of that." And certainly things like post-cancellation DVD sales were really big, and that's how Family Guy came back. So I think they're recognizing that there's something to be gained in letting a show play itself out to a logical conclusion and a satisfying one and letting there be enough episodes. There's a post-life and an after-life to these shows in DVD sales. There's still money to be made there. And we get more quality TV as well.

C: So now post-30 Rock, you're probably a little more comfortable and have more flexibility, so are you going to relax more? I guess you're already gearing up with several projects right now.

SA: I've been traveling a lot and doing festivals and going to LA to get this project, so I'm actually a little more frantic than I was during 30 Rock because with that I could just, I had a homebase, and I would just go and do my job. Here I've got so many different things to do that it's stacking up.

C: I also want to ask you about Moral Orel. There was a special in November 2012, so I was wondering if we're going to see any more of that.

SA: We talked about it. Dino (Stamatopoulos) has some ideas for possible spinoffs for things we could do in like a sideways universe, where we don't have to be slaves to the continuity we already kind of concluded in Moral Orel. We're not sure the network is too keen on it. We did that special, and it was kind of a pilot, and the network didn't pick it up. I think I'd rather see something new than to rehash Orel. We love Orel, we would love to do Orel for years to come because there are still a lot of ideas to explore, and we love the characters a lot, but I don't think it's going to happen. If it does, then nobody would be happier than those people involved.

C: Any other directing items coming up?

SA: No. I've been approached about some things, but I'm just enjoying acting right now, and I've got a lot of it to do at the moment. I don't know. Maybe next year I'll do something on stage. We'll see.

C: Just to wrap up, what shows are you going to see at Just For Laughs?

SA: I hope to see Dylan Moran, he's an Irish guy. He was in Shaun of the Dead and he had his own show called Black Books. He's very funny. And John Hodgman is a friend of mine, I want to see him if I can get there in time. I'm hoping. And Russell Brand I'd love to see. I've never seen him live before. I worked with him briefly one night on Arthur. He was a really, really sweet guy, really funny too, so I'd love to see his show. Oh, yeah, Bob Newhart. That's probably the hottest ticket in town. I'm hoping I can squeeze into that one. I'd love to see David Cross and Seth Meyers, they're both friends, and Hannibal Buress, who wrote on 30 Rock, and he's blowing up now.

C: I actually just, an hour or so ago, interviewed John Hodgman, and I know you did a little work with him on his upcoming special "Ragnarok." I'm curious — are you still in his employ?

SA: Well, I wouldn't call it employ, I would call it servitude. He has seduced me with his intellect and he has convinced me that I will be doomed if I do not in some way serve him. I often can be found at his shows, on stage and otherwise. I also did the audio recording of the foreword for his book That Is All. In New York, we go on stage together when we can, whenever we can, we really enjoy it. He's a really good friend, and I really do adore him and fear him.

C: Before we close out, is there anything you'd like to add?

SA: I'm just looking forward to the festival because I think it's a great collection of talent. There's not one name on the list I have that would be a show I'd say I don't want to see. It's a shame that some of these overlap and conflict. I would love to see everybody who is performing.